October 6, 2005
Putting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together is a snap for Holly and Henry Stephenson compared to scheduling 2,432 major league baseball games.
Photo by Brian Jolley
Island couple played baseball matchmakers
During the recent broadcast of the Red Sox-Yankee series closing the ‘05 American League baseball season, Tim McCarver remarked that whoever it was that had made up the 2005 baseball schedule, with the Red Sox opening the season at Yankee Stadium and the Yankees closing it at Fenway Park, had a sense of the dramatic.
That was Michael Trick, a teacher of "computational methods in optimization" at Carnegie Mellon and a partner in the Sports Scheduling Group (SSG) of Butler, Pennsylvania.
SSG's proposed schedule had been chosen by a committee of general managers and owners who represent all of the major league teams. For the previous 23 years that committee had chosen schedules submitted by Henry and Holly Stephenson of Midland Avenue, Vineyard Haven.
It was someone in the commissioner's office who suggested that there was concern about too much dependency on the Stephensons. "Suppose you were hit by a bus!"
What does it take to become a baseball scheduler?
Holly was an English major at Cornell and earned a teaching degree at Wagner College. Henry is an urban planner and architect with degrees from the University of Illinois and Columbia. An interest in puzzle solving helps.
Actually Henry and Holly Stephenson began their sports scheduling careers with the National Basketball Assn. rather than major league baseball. They created the NBA schedules from 1978 to 1984 and the MLB schedules from 1980 to 2003. They also drew up schedules for the North American Soccer League and Ivy League (collegiate) basketball.
Many of the same challenges exist in scheduling for the NBA and MLB, Henry explained. Some of the differences are due to the fact that baseball teams are apt to own their venues while basketball teams compete for space in arenas with hockey teams, conventions, concerts, ice shows, circuses, and rodeos.
"About the only thing that can displace a baseball game is the Pope, " Henry said. "Or Billy Graham," Holly added.
And the weather! Although rainouts are less of a problem than they used to be as drainage systems are improved and some teams play in domed stadia.
Major league baseball teams play more than twice as many games per week than NBA teams.
Certainly scheduling major league baseball games became more complicated as the number of teams grew from eight to 14 and 16, and interleague play was introduced.
The task is to schedule 2,430 games in 26 weeks avoiding over-long road trips, semi-repeaters (when two teams play back to back series in each other's park) and more than 20 games without a day off (a players' union rule.) Competing games are to be avoided in places where teams share the same market such as Chicago with the Cubs and White Sox, New York with the Yankees and Mets, or San Francisco/Oakland with the Giants and A's.
"Computers can do about 80% of the work," Henry said, and that's a big help, but finally you have to work it out the old fashioned way.
Travel time is more of a problem for the Seattle Mariners, for example, than it is for teams located about the Great Lakes, but it must enter the equation.
The Stephensons vacationed at Snake Hollow in Vineyard Haven for 10 years before becoming year-round Islanders with a home on Midland Avenue. Henry is a member of the Tisbury planning board.
Their son, James, is a graphic designer in San Francisco, and a daughter Katy, a doctor at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
When asked if they were baseball fans, Henry and Holly laughed. "We used to say we rooted for the Washington Senators, but now that we're retired we can admit we're part of Red Sox Nation."
The Stephensons take some pleasure, but none of the credit, for the fact that in their final year as Major League schedule makers, the Red Sox won the World Series.
Jackson Parker finishes second, to the applause of AD Glen Field and the varsity football team.
Just one second separated Evan Kendall and Mason Fisher, who finished fourth and fifth.
Hustling harriers win
Diman Voke's cross-country team came in a distant second to Martha's Vineyard, here, Tuesday, 15-44.
The first five runners to reach the finish line wore purple: Edison Parzanese in 17:16, Jackson Parker in 17:24, Lucas Emin in 18:50, Even Kendall in 19:03, and Mason Fisher in 19:04. Ryan Yennie was seventh and Connor Rasmussen was 13th.
At Franklin Park
Allison Flanders ran a 20:01 5K, in the McIntyre Invitational at Franklin Park, Boston, Saturday. She finished eighth of 295 varsity girls. Jackson Parker was the first Vineyarder to complete the boys varsity 5K in 17:20. The Islanders' team was 17th.
Blue Devils dropped
The MVRHS golf team won its second match of the year defeating Chatham at Eastward Ho's par-35 course, Monday, 5-4.
Tony Grillo was four under par at Farm Neck in the medalist round against Seekonk.
Co-captain Lilla Warren putts out on the fourth green.
Tony Grillo led the way with a 3-2 win in the first flight. Co-captain Lilla Warren bowed, 1-up.
In the second flight Albion Alley won his match, 3-2 as Corey Leonard lost by the same margin.
Mike Diaz won, 4-3 and Tad Gold halved his match in the third flight.
Grillo's 41 was the medalist round.
With a score of 355, the MVRHS golf team came in fourth behind (1) Cape Cod Academy, 329 (2) Nantucket, 333 and (3) Cape Tech, 353 in the Cape & Islands Classic at Sankaty Head G.C., Saturday. Also competing were (5) Upper Cape, 356 (6) Harwich, 378 (7) Chatham, 389 (8) Sturgis, 403 and (9) Provincetown, 404.
Nick Clarke of CCA had the medalist round of par 74.
Tuesday the Islanders were second to Seekonk, 42-30 at Farm Neck. With an eagle, three birdies, four pars and a bogie, Tony Grillo blistered the par-35 course with a medalist round of 31. Albion Alley also won his first flight match and Tad Gold halved his match in the third flight.
MV's record is 2-12.
First-week winning captains Wes Wood and Ray Blanchette fire away at the PA Club's targets.
Photo by Linda Wood
The MV Dart League began play at the PA Club, Thursday, Sept. 22, with Wes Wood's Wonders (Charlene Alley, Richie Roy, Pete Searle) besting the Norton Naturals (Tom Norton, Mike Dow, Linda Wood, Mat Hubert) 9-2. James Rowell hit an 80 three-dart-on and a 96 two-dart-out.
The following Thuarsday, Ray Blanchette, Mike Lipinsky, Charlene Barbosa, and Wayne George took home the money thrashins the Naturals, 10-1. Mike Lipinsky hit a 91 three-dart-out.
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